Most manufacturers have two lines of equipment—a heavy-duty line that can be grouped together into a continuous lineup of ranges, and then there is a lighter- duty series called restaurant ranges. Restaurant ranges are often smaller in both length and width and built less ruggedly for lower volume operations.
Even though the heavy-duty range costs nearly double the price of a restaurant range, most production kitchens would be advised to opt for the additional cost. The restaurant range does have its place in a low-volume or lighter-usage kitchen. Another version, called the all-in-one range, has a broiler, griddle, open burners and two ovens all in one five- or six-foot unit, perfect for the small operation.
Aside from the traditional range and cooking battery, the range suite-style, also known as island cooking or a Euro set-up, is gaining in popularity, especially for open kitchens exposed to the dining area. It’s important to note that a Euro range is going to be quite a bit more expensive than the traditional battery of ranges.
In addition to the cooktop choice, you need to decide what to put above and below the cooktop. Let’s first look below the range. Your basic choices are an oven base, storage base or no base if you mount the range on a table or on a specially constructed refrigerator. Probably the most popular base though is a standard oven. The oven seems to always come in handy, and at about a $1,500 upcharge over a storage base, is the least expensive oven you will ever buy. Also available are convection oven bases that cost $2,500 more than a standard oven. They have limited capacity and don’t usually cook as well as a stand-alone convection, but they can come in handy.
Typically, a convection oven is just large enough for an 18” x 26” baking pan and only about 14 inches high inside. Consider this when making the purchase.
There are a number of options above the cooktop. One is a stainless steel flue riser that diverts flue gases to the exhaust hood in gas models and also reduces the opportunity for spills or debris to get inside the range or oven mechanisms. It also helps keep splatters off your back wall for easier clean up.
One or two shelves mounted on the flue riser come in handy. Other common options are the salamander broiler and cheesemelter. Generally the cheesemelter is good for just what its name implies, melting cheese or quick browning of precooked items. The salamander broiler is a heavier duty item that puts out a lot of heat for broiling smaller sized items.
The big decision is the configuration of the cooktop itself. There are no fewer than seven or eight basic cooktop types. When you include mixing and matching the sections, there could be more than 100 standard 36-inch range top configurations. In addition, you need to think about some spreader or worktop space between units for holding items and plating.
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You are probably familiar with most of the cooktop types. There are open burners in large stockpot format, which are configured four burners for a 36-inch top. Open burners are also available in a smaller sauté-style format with six burners. There are griddles, even heat plates, charbroilers, French tops and planchas.
The French cooktop has a single large ring in the center and usually several large ring burners below the steel-plate top. The unit in action will get very hot in the center at the bull’s eye and be cooler further from center. It allows you to move pans around based on the heat you need at the moment without adjusting a flame. For example, you can bring a pot to a boil quickly in the center of the top, and then push it off to the side to simmer. There’s also some dual French top models with two rings on a 36-inch base, which allow even more versatility.
The plancha top is a smooth steel plate that looks much like a griddle with a drip gutter on three sides instead of just the front. The unit differs from a griddle in that it can be operated at a much higher temperature—about 800°. The top steel plate is often thinner than a griddle for quick heat response. The unit can be used for grilling food directly on the cooking surface or you can cook in pans heated by the surface. For example, you can make a sauce in a pan next to the item you are grilling on the same cooktop.
Induction is another range type to consider. The units are powerful, as fast as gas and don’t add waste heat to the kitchen. Several manufacturers have experimented with induction as an option for a range-top configuration, but they haven’t been widely introduced yet.
Induction is available as single- or double-countertop units. Because there’s no flame or need for ventilation, air-conditioning cost could be lowered by using induction. There seems to be great potential in induction.
Over the past few years there have been many engineering changes in gas burners to get the most heat. Some manufacturers have also added more insulation to their equipment than in the past. The added insulation is especially useful in the performance of an oven base. The insulation will also provide more temperature separation for units with refrigerated bases—an option that’s becoming increasingly more popular in today’s compact kitchens.
Dan Bendall is a principal of FoodStrategy, a Maryland-based consulting firm specializing in planning foodservice facilities. He’s a member of Foodservice Consultants Society International and can be reached at email@example.com.